Now What? Will Pack Play or Rest?

With the Packers having locked up the No. 1 seed, that's what coach Mike McCarthy will ponder headed into a meaningless regular-season finale against Detroit.

Two goals down.

One more to go for the Green Bay Packers.

With Sunday night's 35-21 demolition of Chicago, the Packers improved to 14-1 and secured homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the first time since winning Super Bowl XXXI in 1996.

"We had three goals to start the season – win the division, homefield advantage and obviously win the Super Bowl," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We wanted the path to go through Lambeau. We have a great home-field advantage here. There's nothing like our fans, our surface is in great shape, and we play well at home. I think everybody would like to play at home."

Especially the Packers, who have won a league-best 12 consecutive games at Lambeau Field.

"I think it just helps with our psyche," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "Really, playing at home with the crowd, you factor in the elements. The teams who look like they've clinched it now, they're from the South or the West Coast, (so) it could be difficult. Ultimately, it really comes down to 11-on-11 and who's the better team at that time, but homefield advantage definitely plays a big part in games, and hopefully it'll help us in the future."

With nothing tangible to be gained next week against Detroit, which clinched a wild-card berth on Saturday, McCarthy must decide whether he wants to play to win against a division rival or play it conservatively with key players to ensure they're healthy heading into a playoff game the weekend of Jan. 14-15.

"That's a great question," McCarthy said. "We do need to get healthy as a team, which every team in the league probably is saying that today. But we'll look at all of our options. But I'm not going to stand here and tell you we want to give away opportunities to win the game. We're going to play to win the game next week. I'm not real excited about a division opponent coming in here and think we're not going to do everything we can to get to 15-1. But health is an issue for us. I think that's stating the obvious."

Of course, McCarthy can't play it safe with everybody. Clearly, a premium would be the health of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson. But this isn't college football and 80-man rosters. There are 53 players on an NFL roster, a number that is trimmed to 46 on gameday. Of the seven players deactivated for Sunday night's game, four were because of injuries (Bryan Bulaga, Chad Clifton, Ryan Pickett and Greg Jennings).

"There's something to be said about finishing the season well," Rodgers said. "The Bears tried to keep us out of the playoffs last year in the last game of the year and it would be nice to finish out the season the way we started it, with a strong showing in a home game. That being said, I think you have to take into account the health of your football team. We have some guys banged up. We'll see what Mike says this week. But until we hear differently, we'll prepare as if we're going to play."

Even at 14-1, the Packers clearly have flaws on defense. Against Chicago on Sunday, a team relying on its third starting quarterback and third and fourth running backs, the Bears hogged the ball for 19-plus minutes in the first half and rolled up 441 total yards. At this point, the Packers' defense has set its identity, but another game certainly couldn't hurt smooth out some kinks.

"There's a lot of time," Woodson said. "We do have next week to prepare for the Lions and then we'll have the bye, so there's some things we can look at from that bye week standpoint, but the way you correct things is on the football field, so we'll have to next week, buckle down and try to fine tune ourselves coming up going into the playoffs."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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